Steep airfares grounding demand

MATTHEW DALLAS - ACTING EDITOR
Last updated 12:00 05/09/2014

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How airlines structure their fares has long been one of the great mysteries and, in respect to regional flights, one of the great irritations among the Manawatu public.

While Air New Zealand will argue small planes means fewer bums on seats, translating to leaner profit margins and few cheap flights, the reasoning becomes less palatable when the company boosts a $262 million profit - an increase of 45 per cent - for the year and holds a monopoly on regional routes.

Even our corporate-friendly prime minister has added his voice to the protest for lower regional airfares, though it is election time.

While progress is being made on the Palmerston North - Nelson route, which will switch to the less frequent but larger Q300 planes next year, easing the ticket price, increasing passenger numbers on the smaller 19-seat Beech 1900D aircraft is viewed as the best way to reduce fare prices, says Palmerston North Airport chief executive David Lanham.

But there is no way that is going to happen with the present fares, which encourage consumers to instead drive to Wellington Airport or opt for alternative transport options.

As the Standard reported yesterday, group bookings, such as sport teams, face massive travel costs, without the advantage of being able to access schemes such as Grabaseat.

A women's team from Bramac Aces Softball Club, intent on travelling to a national championships in Dunedin next March, found it would cost over $15,000 for the 23-person squad to fly return from Palmerston North. Little wonder they balked at the price and are instead considering flying to Christchurch and driving to Dunedin.

Though Air New Zealand told us it did offer discounts for group bookings, these deals can not be calculated in the same way as standard tickets on the airline's website. You have to email an agent.

We would expect, given what an effective way it could be to fill out a small aircraft, such deals would be more convenient and visible. We would be interested to know how many grassroots sports clubs are even aware they exist.

At the moment there is a stalemate, where both consumers and the airline expect an incentive to increase demand or drop the price respectively.

We can think of 262 million reasons why Air New Zealand should make the first move. If it doesn't Palmerston North Airport could be in for a bleak future.

ONE MORE THING

Well done to Hokowhitu Kindergarten for its imaginative "drive-in" movie night, for which children turned cardboard boxes into cars. I know what I'm doing this weekend - may even let the kids join in.

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- Manawatu Standard

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